Syria poses little danger to the United States. But there are demonstrable threats to us elsewhere, such as from North Korea and Iran. A genuine act of self-assertiveness would be to eliminate those threats, which for a long time we have not only tolerated but actively abetted.
When a country’s foreign policy rests on no clear principles—when it’s an unpredictable and indecipherable hash of emotionalism, altruism and ad hoc machinations—when no firm guidelines exist to determine when we will or won’t use force—then “red lines” sprout up everywhere. And if America has an obligation to take action against “any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” then any failure to do so becomes evidence of weakness. If every evil committed by some vicious dictator is an assault against “America’s interests,” then inaction against such dictators shows a lack of will to uphold those “interests.”
If, however, we had a principled foreign policy, our government would understand that politically Americans have only one fundamental interest: their freedom—and that our policymakers’ sole task is to protect that freedom. When facing a situation like the one in Syria, therefore, they would morally condemn Assad’s tyranny while remaining true to the principle that we use force only when the liberty of Americans is threatened. They would refuse to treat Americans as selfless servants to the needs of the world. And they would make sure to employ force decisively against those who actually threaten us.
The Moral Case has been reviewed favorably by dozens of publications (including the WSJ), it has a 4.7 rating across hundreds of reviews on Amazon (very unusual for a book this controversial), it was an NYT and WSJ bestseller, and one of the most respected political commentators of the last 25 years named me “most original thinker of the year” because of my reframing of the climate issue.
Almost no opponents challenge *The Moral Case* because they don’t want to *confront a good argument*. Their interest is not the discovery of the policies that will advance human flourishing, it is the status/approval they get by being leaders of a mainstream crusade.
Since the publication of The Moral Case, whenever opponents have tried to refute me in live situations, whether through debates or hostile interviews, it has gone badly for them.
I have no idea what happened in this latest case (because he didn’t have the character to tell me) but it wouldn’t surprise me if some YouTube browsing made him conclude that he would be better off attending to “urgent” business far away from the debate hall.
There is still an empty slot to debate me at Collision Conf next Tuesday–if we can fill it with a big name. (Otherwise I will do a full event on the moral case). If Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Nye The Science Guy, or (the latest “scientific” fossil fuel attacker) Neil deGrasse Tyson is willing to step up, I will happily pay for their First-Class fare. Leo, since I know you prefer to fly private jet when it’s time to go attack fossil fuels, I will pay $2000 of your (fossil) fuel.
Signed in 1861 on a sunny Atlantic island, it tied an exiled French genius to an upstart Belgian house, resulting in the printing of that perennial masterwork, Les Misérables. In a new book, The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’, the professor and translator David Bellos condenses tranches of research into a gripping tale about Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.
The deal, Bellos points out, was pathbreaking on several levels. First, Hugo earned an unprecedented sum: 300,000 francs (roughly $3.8 million in today’s money) for an eight-year license. “It was a tremendous amount of money, and since it entitled the publisher to own the work for only eight years, it remains the highest figure ever paid for a work of literature,” Bellos writes: “In terms of gold it would have weighed around ninety-seven kilos [213 pounds]. It was enough money to build a small railway or endow a chair at the Sorbonne.”
Second, the neophyte Belgian publisher Albert Lacroix was the antithesis of a Penguin Random House. At the time, the twenty-eight-year-old Lacroix had cut his teeth at his uncle’s printing press, and he didn’t have so much as a sou to his name. Determined to sign Hugo on, he set up his own firm—Lacroix, Verboeckhoven & Co—and borrowed the entire amount for Hugo’s advance from the Oppenheim bank in Brussels, where he had contacts. Bellos marks it as “probably the first loan ever made by a bank to finance a book,” which means “Les Misérables stands at the vanguard of the use of venture capital to fund the arts.”
Third, Lacroix signed on knowing full well that his client was a political outcast….
A Dearth of Eagles is a fast-paced fictional work tells the story of Bulgarian freedom fighters during Communism’s final years, of their valiant attempts to smuggle dissidents to freedom in the West, and of their desperate battles with the Durjavna Sigurnost, the Bulgarian secret police who seek to kill them. It tells also of a parallel conflict, of one of the freedom fighters—a member of the tiny band, an émigré, a writer living in New York City—who engages in the story’s fiercest struggle, seeking to publish serious stories about these dauntless men in a Western literary culture that rejects heroism for anti-heroism.
My brief remarks at CPAC were based on my decade-plus research on the natural rights justification for patents and other IP rights (see here, here, here, here, and here), and on how this theory was applied in the uniquely American approach to securing patents as property rights (see here, here, and here). To take but one example of this American approach, a Supreme Court Justice said in 1845 that “we protect intellectual property, the labors of the mind, . . . as much a man’s own, and as much the fruit of his honest industry, as the wheat he cultivates, or the flocks he rears.”
On the basis of this classic moral justification for all property rights — that people should have the fruits of their productive labors secured to them as their property — early American legislators and judges secured stable and effective property rights to innovators and creators.
This was part-and-parcel of American exceptionalism. The U.S. was the first country to protect true property rights in inventions and creative works. It was also the first country to recognize patents and copyrights in its Constitution, and to provide for their protection.
As the Founding Father James Madison wrote in 1792, the right to property “embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right,” and “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort.” As Madison and most early American judges recognized, the natural right to property was never limited—as Mr. Holt claims—to only physical land and other tangible goods. Even John Locke recognized in 1695 that copyright is property (see here).
Wilders has called for banning the Quran. He wants to close mosques and ban the building of new ones, and he has proposed a change to the Dutch Constitution that would outlaw faith-based schools for Muslims but not for Christians and citizens committed to other religions and life philosophies.
As a justification for his position on Islam, Wilders often quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words from a letter written in 1859: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” But one could turn Lincoln’s words against Wilders himself. By calling for a ban on the Quran and for the closing of mosques and faith-based schools for Muslims, he insists on denying freedom of speech and religion to Muslims.
Wilders’s support for the First Amendment was based on the fact that it would protect his own speech, but when he found out that the First Amendment would also provide a robust protection of the freedom of speech and religion for Muslims, he was reluctant to support it.
In doing so, he failed the acid test for the support of free speech in a democracy. It was first formulated by the legendary Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who issued a famous dissenting opinion in 1929: “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”
Freedom for the speech that we hate. That’s the acid test. This principle embodies the essence of tolerance. You do not ban, intimidate, threaten or use violence against speech that you deeply dislike or hate.
Wilders thinks only speech that he approves of should be uncensored. He is no friend of free speech. For a real defense of free speech check out Fleming Rose’s book, The Tyranny of Silence, along with Steve Simpson’s book, Defending Free Speech.
It’s Presidents Day in America and below I offer a list of the five best and five worst among the 44 men who’ve served in the office since 1789. My standard is this: how closely did the president hew to the U.S. Constitution (as required by oath) and how much did he preserve individual rights, a free economy, and national security.
I believe the five best U.S. presidents were Washington (1789-1797), Lincoln (1861-1865), Grant (1869-1877), Coolidge (1923-1929), and Reagan (1981-1989). Runner-up: Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897).
In contrast, I contend that the five worst presidents were Madison (1809-1817), Wilson (1913-1921), FDR (1933-1945), LBJ (1963-1969), and Nixon (1969-1974). Runner-up: Hoover (1929-1933).
To fight these ideas and the culture they’ve spawned on campus will require more than complaining about college “snowflakes” or political correctness. We need to defend the ideas on which free speech depends, most notably reason and individual rights.
The purpose of the right to free speech is to protect our right to think for ourselves and to communicate with others, which are two of the pillars of a modern, free society. True, people can and often do say absurd and horrible things. But it’s false to equate even hateful speech with use of force.
Force is qualitatively different from speech. No matter how harsh speech is, you are always free to ignore it and walk away. Not so with force. If you doubt this, ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Flemming Rose, or the many other individuals currently on jihadist hit lists whether they would prefer to live under the threat of death or the threat of hateful speech.
That’s not to say that speech can never be used in the commission of a crime. It is entirely proper to criminalize actual threats, incitement to violence, and the like. But that’s because what is being threatened is the use of force. If those who use offensive or hateful speech cross the line into actual threats or incitement, then it is proper to prosecute them. But short of that, they must be free to speak.
Ayn Rand once said that “a gun is not an argument.” The reverse is also true: an argument is not a gun. If we forget the difference, we will end up with guns settling our disputes, rather than arguments.
Simpson’s article is excellent and the entire piece is worth a read as well as the collection of essays he has put together in his book Defending Free Speech.
“There has always been a tension between the antitrust laws and patent law,” Adam Mossoff, co-founder of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property and professor at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, told Watchdog.org. “[A]ntitrust authorities have historically been very skeptical [of innovative companies] and have tended to find so-called monopolization activities when in fact it’s just the evolution and development of a new market that never existed before.”
Mossoff and others worry that the commission has undermined property rights, threatening companies’ incentives to invest and innovate and encouraging foreign countries to disregard IP protections, all the while basing its enforcement actions on theoretical injury to consumers, rather than demonstrated harm.
“Caught up in a ‘moral panic’ over IP, the FTC is trying to remedy uncertain consumer ‘harms,’ Mossoff said, while threatening innovative companies’ research-and-development-driving revenue streams. By calling the stability of intellectual property rights into question, the FTC could undermine the ‘web of commercial transactions, thousands of commercial transactions’ that go into every smartphone, ever car, and many more products. Those commercial webs depend, he said, on companies knowing whose IP is what, and what it’s worth.”